The release of their new album Garden Ruin, sees Calexico taking a different tact with their music and simplifying some of their sound. I saw them when they came to town most recently with Iron and Wine and feel that the touring collaboration may have had some influence on this most recent release. The band has taken out a lot of the jam band qualities found on previous albums, and produced a much more mainstream effort.
After an already long career, Calexico has changed. Gone is the mariachi-rock sound, to be replaced by a more folk/alt-country sound. These qualities are on display in “Panic Open String,” which combines steel guitar with soft and beautiful harmonies. The song builds to peaks then drops down into valleys, finally coming to a rest with an orchestral string arrangement.
The sounds of Garden Ruin vary from track to track; “Bisbee Blue” has an Otis Redding essence that walks the line of sorrowful yet still upbeat, while “Letter to Bowie Knife” and “Deep Down” bring on the rock with loud and twangy guitars.
Garden Ruin comes to a close with the brilliant and almost stunning “All Systems Red.” It starts out quietly and starkly poignant. Joey Burns sings softly over an acoustic guitar, then instruments and background noise are added as Burns’ voice rises into an almost anguished howl. I shy away from interpreting artist’s meanings, but “All Systems Red” seems to be a very well done commentary on the things going on in the world and is a fine end to a fine album.
Long-time fans of Calexico will be saddened to hear of their change. Change is good, so long as the band has the talent to back it up. I think that fans of Calexico can relax knowing that their boys are up to the challenge. Garden Ruin will not disappoint, so approach the record store counter with confidence.